By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Iranian hard-liners are trying to undermine their moderate opponents ahead of the February 26 parliamentary elections by alleging that their list of candidates is supported by Great Britain.
The vote will pit moderates against hard-liners running for the parliament's 290 seats and the 86-member Assembly of Experts that could choose Iran's next supreme leader. Many prominent reformists have been reportedly barred from running by the conservative Guardians Council that screens all candidates for office in the Islamic republic.
"The British government is evil, and when it supports only some of the election lists, we should be worried," said Ayatollah Hassan Mamduhi, a member of the Assembly of Experts.
Speaking to the Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mamduhi added that "those candidates that are being supported by Britain" should declare their innocence.
Many pointed the finger at the BBC, claiming that the British news service had told Iranians which candidates to vote for.
Spreading lies against competition
(cartoon by Keyvan Varessi, Ghanoon daily)
Among these accusers was ultraconservative cleric Ahmad Khatami, also a member of the Assembly of Experts, who claimed that "arrogant powers" are intent on an "infiltration" of Iran's center of power.
"Isn't it interference by the British media to present a list of candidates and tell [people], 'Vote for this, don't vote for that'?" Khatami said over the weekend.
The Persian service of the BBC appears to have angered Iranian hard-liners due to its popularity and attempts to provide Iranians with news and information they don't get from heavily censored Iranian state broadcasts.
The news portal Mashreghnews.ir posted pictures of several people in the western province of Ilam holding signs that said "I will not vote for the BBC candidate."
The "British list" allegations prompted a sharp reaction from Iranian President Hassan Rohani, a self-proclaimed moderate, who said the intelligence of Iranian voters should not be insulted. "There is no need to add color to the old face of worn-out colonial [powers] and belittle the people," Rohani was quoted as saying on February 24.
Rohani's ally, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also dismissed the allegations of British meddling. "Such interpretations regarding a 'British list' [of candidates] is an insult to the Iranian people's wisdom," Rafsanjani said on February 23.
Both Rohani and Rafsanjani are running for the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with monitoring the performance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 76, and choosing his successor should he die or become incapacitated.
Pro-reform activists have called on voters to back an alliance of reformist and moderate candidates to provide a counterweight to hard-liners in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.
cartoon by Mohsen Zarifian, Iranian daily Etemad
Among those who have taken to social media to encourage Iranians to vote for moderates is Parvin Fahimi, whose son, Sohrab Arabi, was killed in the 2009 crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.
"I will vote for the list of reformists, the list that has been endorsed by [former reformist President Mohammad] Khatami," Fahimi said in a video while holding a picture of her dead son.
پروين فهيمى، مادر سهراب اعرابى از كشتگان ٨٨:به ليست اصلاح طلبان ٣٠+١٦ مورد تاييد آقاى خاتمى راى ميدم. به اميد سرافرازى همه مردم ايران.Posted by رای می دهم on Tuesday, February 23, 2016
The daughters of Iranian opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi and Zahra Rahnavard have also announced that they will participate in the elections despite "pressure and shortcomings."
Musavi and his wife, Rahnavard, as well as reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, have been under house arrest since February 2011 for repeatedly challenging the Iranian establishment and condemning human rights abuses.
Karrubi's family has urged voters to participate in the elections to push for a "house cleaning" in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.
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